fallible language IV: The bible contains everything?


We’re still in a series that I’ve begun last winter, about fallibility of language (find part I, part II and part III here, as well as the apophatic interlude) in which we were looking at the ways in which language fails us sometimes, and we were investigating this mostly through an Orthodox lens. So we arrive at the next question, which is very important for protestants: after my explorations in the fallibility of language, what do we do with the book, with the bible?

My tradition finds the bible very important, maybe sometimes even too important. Sometimes accusations of treating it like a ‘paper pope’ or even worshiping it are not too far off, if I read what certain evangelicals and fundamentalists write about the written word or the scriptures. (I’m not discussing the distinction with the Living Word, which is Jesus, see for example John 1 here, that’s another discussion)

Let’s go back to the ‘Light from the Christian East’:

Eastern Christianity emphasizes that God has condescended to human beings to reveal himself to them. In this, the Orthodox faithfully follow the path of the Greek church fathers. This revelation is of a God who is great, unfathomably beyond us. Since He is God, there is no way that we as mere human beings, as his creatures, can understand him. There is no “suprahuman” language that God could use to communicate with us—and even if there were, we would not be able to understand it. God has accommodated himself to us and our limitations, using human language and human experience of the world to tell us about himself and his relationship to us. In all this, God speaks truly as He reveals himself to us, but He does not speak exhaustively and penetratingly, such that we could comprehend him. Thus, God’s revelation in Scripture is true, although it does not say every-thing about God. It is adequate for God’s purposes and for our needs, but not sufficient to enable us mere limited human beings, his creatures, to obtain discursive knowledge of him.
(…)Thus, we must not merely nod our heads to divine incomprehensibility. According to Orthodoxy, we need to keep it constantly in mind as we talk about God. The God to whom we relate is with us, but hè is always beyond us and our under-standing. If even Scripture is thus delimited in its presentation of God, positive theology must be as well. (James Payton)

And this is something greatly missed by much of the modern forms of Christianity, and especially its apologetics… And it’s also missed in lots of theologies I’ve encountered, which tried to explain everything about God and put it into systematic schemes, and then pretended that the case was closed… The opposite it true… Nor the bible nor our theologies nor any form of science will ever be able to map the things of this world. (All the books of the world are not enough to just tell the story of all Jesus did while alive…Let alone that we would be able to do that with God Himself.  Heck, even the male pronoun used is inaccurate, but it’s hard to do otherwise in English (or dutch) and not be weird… So our mere languages may even be problematic to write about God, and then there’s the problem of God’s otherness, God’s unknowable-ness, etc… We cannot understand the essence of God with our minds, let alone describe it with our fallible languages…

But the thing is that this should not be a problem, it only makes God bigger. That might be hard for sceptics to grasps though…

shalom

Bram

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One response to “fallible language IV: The bible contains everything?

  1. A few hours after I read this post, I came across a statement by Robert Pirsig in his book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” that touches on this issue:

    “[Phaedrus] become aware that the doctrinal differences among Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism are not anywhere near as important as doctrinal differences among Christianity and Islam and Judaism. Holy wars are not fought over them because verbalized statements about reality are never presumed to be reality itself.”

    All too often we allow our statements, or our reading of the Bible, on who God is to create a ‘God’ that may not look anything like Him. Even though I think Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism take this concept of illusion too fare, I do believe there is something there that we can learn from. Just like James Payton said in the above quote, God is “great, unfathomably beyond us.”

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